MAY 12, 2017, NORFOLK (NNS) – Heralded as the “safer” alternative to cigarettes, E-cigarettes are facing security after several have exploded or caught fire in pockets, hands and even mouths. The Navy announced their e-cigarette ban will ban them from all aircraft, ships and submarines.
The ban will go into effect aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) (GW), May 14, 30 days from the initiation of the message.
“The Naval Safety Center is conducting a safety investigation for extreme vetting,” said Electrician’s Mate (nuclear) 2nd Class Sean Mok, a GW safety representation. “It is to ensure that Sailors can vape safely.”
The ban includes using, charging, and even possessing electronic cigarettes and vaporizers while aboard. The devices can be broken down into three main parts: the cartridge or tank (for the liquid), the atomizer (the heating element), and the battery. The battery, seems to be the potential culprit in previous explosions.
“The keys in your pocket could short the batteries out; any metal to metal contact could do it,” said Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Aaron Blackburn, leading petty officer of GW’s electrical division. “The main concern is the use of the chargers. The cables are the same, but the base is specific. If you aren’t using the recommended charger base, the battery could be over- or under-charged.”
The lithium-ion battery in the E-cigarette device can explode when the internal electrical components short-circuit. One part of the battery gets too hot and can’t cool down quickly enough. This causes “thermal runaway” when the heat continues to rise inside until the outer shell bursts from pressure.
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identified 25 cases of E-cigarette explosions in the US between 2009 [and] 2014,” said April Glaser, in an article for Wired website entitled ‘Vape Pens and E-Cigs are Blowing Up. Like, Literally.’ “However, that list is based only on incidents reported to the media. A quick internet search shows at least a dozen explosions in 2015 alone.”
FEMA reported 80 percent of E-cigarette explosions occurred when the device was charging, 8 percent while in use, and 4 percent while in storage. The status of the last 8 percent of explosions were not reported.
Brooke Higginbotham, a public relations specialist for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global independent safety science company, released a statement, March 20, that discussed the problem and what UL is doing to reduce future injuries.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported an increased number of incidents involving fire resulting in injury requiring medical treatment. These recent events highlight the dramatic market growth of E-cigarette use and the associated safety concerns. UL will now be able to test and certify these devices using UL 8139 (framework for evaluation) through a system approach to evaluate the device, its rechargeable battery and charging system.”
There is still no industry standard, so some devices that malfunction are made with cheaper materials rendering the devices much less stable.
“Typically, chargers shut off,” said Chief Electrician’s Mate Sedric Jones, leading chief petty officer of GW’s electrical division. “Cheaper chargers don’t stop sending electricity. It over-charges. The batteries heat up and then it burns and explodes. The lithium-ion battery has a small risk of failure, but the cheaper ones we are worried about. If it explodes on the ship, it could cause a big fire.”
While there is no industry standardization as of yet for lithium-ion batteries, the best way to reduce the risk of instability would be to buy a quality E-cigarette device from a reputable manufacturer. Check to make sure the device offers a battery management system.
“I have been vaping for a few months,” said Machinist’s Mate Fireman Christopher Conrad. “I smoked cigarettes for 3 years. I know it’s not good for you, but it is a good stress relief. E-cigarettes seems to be a good alternative. It is healthier for you.”
By By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer O’Rourke , USS George Washington Public Affairs